Man, I really wish I'd read this later, so that I could read the next books in the series. It doesn't end precisely with a cliffhanger, but it's definitely a “to be continued.”
The setting is the part that strikes you first in The Way of Kings. The country in which it's mainly set stratifies society by hair and eye color (with “lighteyes” essentially being a synonym for “toffs.”). Literacy and scholarship are considered women's arts, and men are either illiterate or pretend to be to preserve their perceived masculinity. And that's just the land most of it takes place in. Each country has its own culture and traditions, without just being parallels to Earth countries. And despite the creativity of the setting, it never feels like a world-building exercise. It feels like a real place people live in.
The characters are what really did for me, though. I am a sucker for great characters, and Sanderson obliges. They always seem like real individuals, and they're still stuck with me, weeks after reading this book. Take, for instance Shallan, a scholar from a noble family who is trying to be accepeted as a pupil to a great lady, so she can steal her magic device and use it to pay off her family's debts. She is smart and brave and terrified and witty and desperate and moral. And that's only scratching the surface.
The plot is hard to summarize. There is the old fantasy trope of a coming storm/apocalypse, but everyone is so busy fighting and scheming that only a few people actually notice the various portents. By the end of the novel, though, things have definitly been set in motion.
I would recommend this for fans of epic fantasy (And it is epic, it clocks in at about 1,000 pages and there's more books to come!) but if you want to try Brandon Sanderson and not have to wait long years for the sequels, you could try his Mistborn trilogy, which I also loved. It's even odder, as it blends between epic fantasy, historical(ish) fantasy, and, in the first novel, a heist plot.